JACKSON, MS – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi have filed a lawsuit against a Mississippi high school that excluded a female student's name and senior portrait from the yearbook rather than publish a photo of her in a tuxedo. The lawsuit charges that Ceara Sturgis was unfairly discriminated against by the Wesson Attendance Center based on her sex and unfair gender stereotypes.
"I went to school with my classmates my whole life, and it hurts that I'm not included in my senior yearbook as part of my graduating class," Ceara said. "I never thought that my school would punish me just for being who I am."
Ceara was an honor student and a member of several sports teams at Wesson, where she attended school from kindergarten through her senior year. At home and at school, she dresses in clothing that is traditionally associated with boys, and had previously not encountered any problems from her peers or teachers. When she had her formal senior portrait taken, she opted to wear a tuxedo, rather than a drape that gives the appearance of wearing a dress or a blouse. Because of her attire, the school refused to publish her photo and name as part of the senior year class.
The lawsuit charges Ceara's rights were violated under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex and sex stereotypes, and the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.
"Inclusion in the senior yearbook is a rite of passage for students, and it is shameful that Ceara was denied that chance," said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "It's unfair and unlawful to force students to conform to outdated notions about what boys and girls should look like without any regard to who they actually are as people."
Ceara tried posing with the drape, but felt extremely uncomfortable and had her mother request that she wear the tuxedo instead. The photographer permitted Ceara to do so. It was only after the portrait was taken that the principal informed Ceara that he would not allow the photo to be published. Despite efforts to resolve the issue by Ceara's mother and the ACLU, Ceara received her yearbook without her portrait, or even her name, included in the senior class portrait section.
"This should never have been an issue. Title IX and the Constitution prohibit school officials from forcing students to conform to gender stereotypes. Ceara should not have been expected to compromise her everyday appearance and identity for her senior portrait," said Bear Atwood, interim Legal Director for the ACLU of Mississippi. "The school's actions are discriminatory, unlawful and mean-spirited."
Attorneys on the case include Sun of the ACLU, Atwood of the ACLU of Mississippi and Norman C. Simon, Joshua Glick, Jason Moff and Lee Strock of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.
The ACLU's complaint can be read HERE .